Although levels of interest in the content of the book differed in the group, everyone agreed that it was well written. Part of the blurb on the back cover stated that this “was perhaps his (Barnes’) best book yet”. Members who had read other texts by the author did not agree.
One member felt that the author was constrained by the factual subject matter, but two others felt that the book only became really interesting with George’s court case, which both agreed was riveting. Whilst most of the group liked the book, two members loved it and felt that Barnes had been very successful in describing and developing characters, minor as well as major, in particular, a very sympathetic development of Maud, sister to George and Jean Leckie, Conan Doyle’s second wife.
Readers found that the author was extremely able in building up atmosphere and revealing the intricacies and prejudices of the British class system. Throughout the book George, of Anglo Indian heritage, refused to see the attacks on himself, and his family, as having anything to do with race. It was Conan Doyle who was convinced that this was the case, but his own attitude to race is shown to be less than liberal
It was felt that Barnes’ main success had been in not writing a hagiography of Conan Doyle, but rather had shown him to be a decent but deeply flawed man; as much attention had been placed on the development of character of the unknown George Edalji as on the very famous Conan Doyle. Through George’s often witty unspoken thoughts, Conan Doyle was shown to be no Sherlock Holmes. However, Conan Doyle’s determination, along with that of others, to get justice for the innocent George Edalji was partially responsible for the establishment of the British Court of Criminal Appeal. Julian Barnes’ book, based on authentic material, revealed why that creation was vitally important.